Pelosi: New Feminist Icon?

Or even, "the most powerful woman in American history"?

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In the liberal jubilation over health care reform, laurels are being passed out like party favors. The person getting more credit than anyone else--with the exception of President Obama--is Nancy Pelosi. As many reevaluate the Speaker of the House, some feminists in particular are doing a double-take, and wondering whether perhaps their elusive political icon was right in front of them all along. (Hillary Clinton, of course, is still in the running.) Other conservative women are skeptical, of course, questioning Pelosi's new label of "the most powerful woman in American history."

  • She's Got It All On Slate's Double X blog, Sara Mosle is struck by a photo of Pelosi emerging from reform talk with "a school-aged grandson" on her hip. Mosle notes the "rare combination of maternal instincts and raw political power." This makes her review Pelosi's other qualities, including her "calm and collected" behavior throughout health care reform, and the way she somehow avoids the typical female problem with power--her "mostly male colleagues" appear not so much to resent her but "idolize her," à la British conservatives with Margaret Thatcher. Mosle lists Pelosi's startling accomplishments:
She isn't just the second in line of presidential succession, following Vice President Biden (and thus the most powerful woman in American history). She's a mother of five (yes, count 'em, five) kids, a grandmother of seven, and a church-going Catholic, who is still married to her college sweetheart--in many ways the very embodiment of family values. But while older than Hillary, she appears to have suffered none of the battle scars of early feminism and is completely comfortable and confident in her own skin.
  • You've Just Noticed This? Left-leaning Matt Yglesias at Think Progress isn't so keen on Mosle's Hillary comparison, but mentions, by the by, that the way folks skipped over Pelosi's historic Speakership while focusing on Clinton's presidential bid was a bit strange. "I think it's fair to say [Pelosi's] the most politically powerful woman in American history and it's gone a bit oddly un-remarked-upon."
  • 'The Most Powerful Woman In American History'? Really? Conservative Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing at the National Review, isn't buying it: "I think that's a statement probably born of short-term memory and an exalted view of Washington, D.C. But I'm open to being wrong." She opens the question up to readers: "Who has been the most powerful woman in American history?" In an update, she says many have written in to nominate Edith Wilson.
  • Yes, Really  The Economist's Lexington column made the case a few days before health care reform passed. "There have been female governors, secretaries of state and Supreme Court justices," the column argues, "but only one female speaker." In a follow-up blog post, the writer doesn't exaggerate her talents. "Not even Mrs Pelosi's closest allies would claim that she is a great orator. What she is good at is twisting arms and counting votes."
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